TALLINN - The Center Party is likely to be left languishing in opposition after its four rival parties forged ahead with negotiations to form a governing coalition. Only months after Estonia renationalized its freight railway company, one of the parties negotiating to form the new government has raised the prospect of reselling the asset.
Taavi Veskimagi, co-chairman of the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica (IRL), said a government had "no business" operating a railway, and at the same time called for the privatization of other state-owned companies (see story page 6).
IRL is one of three parties locked in negotiations with the Reform Party, which won the recent national election and was given a mandate to form a coalition government.
Political analysts expect Reform will soon announce a coalition agreement with IRL, the Social Democrats and possibly the Estonian Greens, leaving their old partners the Center Party out in the cold.
While the Center Party championed the renationalization of Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railway), Reform swayed on the issue.
Veskimagi said the ownership of Eesti Raudtee had not been raised in coalition talks so far. He said any such decision would have to arise out of an agreement between all four of the negotiating parties.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said he was confident the coalition agreement would include Reform's promise to drop the flat income tax level from 22 percent to 18 percent and raise the tax-free minimum level to 3,000 kroons.
Ansip said there were few points his party has had to concede in the negotiations, but said it was impossible for all parties to have their demands satisfied.
"There is little certainty that our present budget permits coverage of all the wishes," he told local media.
He said he hoped to reach an agreement by March 26, when the new parliament sits for the first time.
The inclusion of the Estonian Greens in the potential coalition was against the expectation of analysts, given that Reform, IRL and the Social Democrats could govern without the fledging party.
Ansip acknowledged the risk s of forming a four-party coalition.
"We theoretically know that the most stable coalitions are those formed with the lowest possible majority of votes. If some party turns out to be superfluous, it usually doesn't extend the life of a coalition," he said.
But he said any decision of the new government would be reached by consensus between the parties.